A PAINTING by "matchstick man" artist LS Lowry which has not been seen in public for two decades could set a new world record for his works by fetching up to £4.5m at auction.
The Football Match was painted in 1949 and is one of the most eyecatching depictions of the sport by the Manchester City-supporting painter, famed for his depictions of Salford life.
The artwork is in the hands of a private collector and is expected to sell for between 3.5m and 4.5m when it is sold by Christie's in May.
Hundreds of his signature stick figures can be seen gathered at a match on a washed-out looking pitch between terraced houses and factories with billowing chimneys. Christie's has described the painting as "a modern masterpiece".
Lowry, who died in 1976 at the age of 88, was known for his simple depictions of working class life. He painted largely in his spare time while working for the Pall Mall Property Company in Manchester, but still achieved much recognition during his life. He was the Royal artist at the Queen's coronation in 1953 – the year after he retired – and nine years later became a Royal Academician. In 1967, his work featured on a stamp.
The sale could outstrip the previous highest price for a Lowry, also sold by Christie's, when Good Friday, Daisy Nook fetched 3.8m in 2007.
The auction house has sold 125 of his works since June 2006, together totalling 29.4m.
The highest price for a Lowry football painting was 1.9m when Going To The Match was sold in 1999. Like the work to be sold on May 26, the canvas was 28 by 36 inches.
Rachel Hidderley, Christie's international specialist and director of 20th century British art, said: "The large-format, panoramic, bird's eye composite view of Lowry's own landscape perfectly captures the spirit and drama of a town gripped by the excitement of the Saturday football match."
The painting will be sold during a Christie's sale of 20th Century British Art.